Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is firing back on two fronts against exiled member of parliament Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who accuses Ukraine’s leader and his inner circle of top allies of massive and methodical corruption.

Poroshenko’s press service has issued a detailed statement condemning Onyshchenko, who fled Ukraine before he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in July amid accusations he stole $64 million from state-owned gas producer Ukrgazvydobuvannya.

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While the president’s press service lashed out against Onyshchenko, a London law firm has sent a letter to several news media organizations, including the Kyiv Post, threatening legal action for publishing Onyshenko’s allegations.

Russia using ‘false and damaging accusations’

The presidential press service statement to the Kyiv Post on Dec. 8 read:

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“We want to make clear that at this moment Russia wages war against Ukraine. It occupied Crimea, part of Donbas. According to Ukrainian special services, it tries to destabilize the internal situation in Ukraine. Part of this strategy is to use false and damaging accusations voiced by individuals with questionable reputation.

“Oleksandr Onyshchenko (Kadyrov), whom you mention, is suspected of having created an organized criminal group, which committed a number of criminal offenses and inflicted state losses in the amount of 1.6 billion hryvnias (equivalent to around 50 million pounds).

“Charges against him were brought by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) – a newly-established independent law enforcement agency, which was staffed on a competitive basis and with an active support of Ukraine’s Western partners and international donors.

“Upon hearing the case of NABU, Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and Prosecutor General of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine deprived MP Onyshchenko of parliamentary immunity by a convincing and solidarity vote of various political forces, both pro-government and opposition, and agreed to convict him of a criminal offence, to detain and to arrest him. However, prior to that, Mr. Onyshchenko managed to leave the territory of Ukraine having used parliamentary immunity.

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“Several accomplices in his crimes have been detained by the law enforcement agencies. They bear witness and admit to the crime. Some of them have struck a deal of cooperating with the investigation.

“To avoid punishment, Mr. Onyshchenko tries to politicize his criminal case and pretends to be a victim of political repressions. This is the motivation for his absolutely false accusations against President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenkoю. The Press Service of the Ukrainian president is authorized to state responsibly that none of the accusations, claimed by Mr. Onyshchenko is true. They are the expedient fiction of the suspect.

“Lie became the key method used by Onyshchenko (Kadyrov) to politicize his criminal case and avoid responsibility for crimes charged by NABU. That is why he made up a story about “membership in a team.” People of such reputation cannot be members of a team. This is an absolute lie.

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“This is not the first occasion of him spreading dirty fictions about the President of Ukraine and, probably, not the last one.

“On Oct. 6, Head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office Nazar Kholodnitskiy expressed a reasoned suspicion that Oleksandr Onyshchenko was admitted to Russian citizenship. Two weeks later, that information was confirmed by the Ukrainian special services. Thus, it is clearly predictable that Onyshchenko, having been urgently naturalized by the Kremlin, also becomes a tool of Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine, an instrument of destabilizing the political situation in our country and discrediting its leadership.

“The Ukrainian authorities and the president personally are interested in Oleksandr Onyshchenko’s return to Ukraine, his cooperation with the independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which has the legal right to carry out the investigation and submit it to the court. As for the current status of investigation into the case of Onyshchenko’s (Kadyrov’s) organized criminal group, please address the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.”

After the Kyiv Post had already published two stories detailing Onyshchenko’s allegations against Poroshenko, the newspaper received an emailed letter on Dec. 10 from the London law firm of Atkins Thomson, threatening to sue news media organizations that publish Onyschenko’s allegations. (The previous two stories are here: “Onyshchenko makes sweeping claims against Poroshenko graft” on Dec. 9 and “Onyshchenko releases first recording on Poroshenko’s alleged graft” on Dec. 6.)

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A Dec. 10 request to the Presidential Administration’s press service, seeking confirmation that Atkins Thomson represents the president, has thus far not been answered. It is also not clear whether the government of Ukraine held a public tender to select a firm that claims to represent its interests.

Copy of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s press statement on Oleksandr Onyshchenko allegations

Law firm: ‘We will sue if required’

The letter is addressed “To Whom It May Concern” and reads:

“This firm represents Party Bloc Petro Poroshenko, its leadership, and the government of Ukraine. We are instructed to take all necessary steps to prevent publications of a set of seriously defamatory allegations emanating from, and being widely spread around the broadcast and print media, by Mr. Onishchenko. You will know of his background, and therefore the clear reason for and likely veracity of his allegations.

“We will sue if required, and we will hold responsible any broadcaster and publisher of any republications of these libelous allegations in Europe and worldwide, if necessary and appropriate.

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“The truth of this matter is that the allegations are completely false and designed to cause our clients the maximum damage. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the same.”

A copy of the letter sent to Kyiv Post by Atkins Thomson law firm in London.

In interviews, Onyshchenko has made the following accusations, some of which he says are supported by audio recordings and text messages. Onyshchenko’s accusations against the president and his allies include:

* Routine bribery of members of parliament to vote in certain ways, including to remove Valentyn Nalyvaichenko as head of the Security Service of Ukraine in 2015 and to approve Yuriy Lutsenko as prosecutor general this year and Viktor Shokin in 2015;

* Systemic theft from state-owned and private companies, orchestrated allegedly by Poroshenko ally and lawmaker Igor Kononenko (who has denied the accusations);

* Poroshenko instructing the State Fiscal Service to open criminal cases against specific companies, who then have to negotiate a settlement with the president;

* An offer to Onyshchenko of a plea bargain if he forgives Poroshenko’s alleged $50 million in debts to him;

* Orchestration of a smear campaign, on Kononenko’s behest, against former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to force him to resign, which he did in April 2015. Some $30 million was spent on the 10-month campaign.

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* Requests by the president to purchase Channel 112, NewOne and 1+1 television channels as part of Poroshenko’s attack on independent media that allow critical coverage of the administration; and

* A gift of $6 million to support Poroshenko in the 2014 parliamentary election campaign in return for allowing Onyshchenko’s candidacy despite not meeting residency requirements.

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